A crowd of Local S6 members cheer as Robert Martinez, Jr., the international president of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers, speaks during a rally Saturday outside of the Union Hall across from Bath Iron Works. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

BATH — Machinists Union Local S6 overwhelmingly accepted a new contract with Bath Iron Works, bringing an end to a contentious nine-week strike.

After a weekend of remote voting, 87% of union members accepted the revised contract — the same percentage that rejected the first proposed contract that sparked the strike over two months ago.

The 4,300 members of Local S6 will return to work and have their health care benefits restored on Monday.

“This strike was a testament to the culmination of Local S6 leadership, our negotiating committee and the incredible power of solidarity shown by our membership,” Local S6 President Chris Wiers wrote in a statement Sunday. “Now that we successfully protected our contract language with respect to subcontracting and seniority, we need to get back to work and continue to prove to the U.S. Navy that ‘S6 built is best built.’”

BIW Spokesman David Hench wrote the shipyard is “pleased to welcome back our valued manufacturing employees and get back to the important work of building ships on schedule for the U.S. Navy.”

“This contract reflects the commitment of all BIW employees to improve schedule performance and the economic package ensures that manufacturing careers at BIW continue to be among the very best in Maine,” Hench added. “As we move forward to deliver on our commitments to the U.S. Navy and meet our obligations as part of this nation’s critical infrastructure, we must do so together, on time, every time.”

International Union President Robert Martinez Jr. congratulated the union in a statement Sunday, saying Local S6 “has shown the world that together working people can stand up and win for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“This fight for dignity, justice and good Maine jobs will go down in the history books of the Machinists Union and all of organized labor,” Martinez wrote. “I could not be more proud of our IAM Local S6 membership and negotiating committee, District 4 representatives, Eastern Territory staff and everyone who stood with the IAM and the best shipbuilders in the world. We are also grateful for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and Director Richard Giacolone for helping us get this agreement resolved.”

The union went on strike on June 22 after an overwhelming majority of its members rejected the company’s “last, best and final” proposed contract. The major sticking points throughout the 63-day strike were the company’s proposed changes to subcontracting and seniority.

According to the union, the company’s first contract would give BIW the ability to hire subcontractors without justifying its reasons to the union. The shipyard would have also had the power to move workers to different tasks or shifts regardless of seniority.

Dan Coloins, a BIW pipefitter or 41 years, a said the shipyard’s original proposed contract and proposed changes to subcontracting was “an insult” to union members.

“They weren’t negotiating in good faith,” said Coloins. “[BIW] said ‘it’s my way or the highway.’”

The new contract, crafted with the help of a federal mediator called in after a six-week stalemate between the two parties, maintains the current subcontracting language and ensures shift changes will remain based on seniority.

Kevin Roberts, who started working at BIW last December, and said he’s “low on the seniority totem pole now” but understood the importance of striking over the company’s proposed changes to seniority because “It’s not about where I am now. I’m striking looking to where I’ll be in future years.”

In a letter to Locals S6 members Saturday, Rep. Jared Golden congratulated the union on their new contract, but warned, “This victory is not the end of the road.”

“Unions are under siege across the country,” Golden wrote Saturday. “But you’ve shown them why the struggle is worth it. By coming together to strike and refusing to break, you’ve demonstrated that stronger unions mean a stronger America for the working middle-class brothers and sisters that make America great every day.”

Union celebrates with final rally 

Union leaders held a rally Saturday evening to celebrate the rights union members will keep under the revised contract.

Hundreds of union members gathered around the union hall on Washington Street in Bath to hear International Union President Robert Martinez Jr. address the crowd alongside Maine House Speaker and Senate Candidate Sara Gideon, Sen. Eloise Vitelli and Senate President Troy Jackson.

“When I came here last month and walked this picket line, I said that the eyes of the nation are upon all of you,” said Martinez. “The state of Maine was watching, the labor movement was watching, the U.S. Navy was watching and the entire defense industry was watching. Well, America, this is what solidarity looks like and this is what you get when you mess with the Fighting Machinists.”

Other speakers at the rally praised the union’s solidarity and determination throughout the strike.

Robert Martinez Jr., president of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, speaks to a crowd of Local S6 members during a rally Saturday across from Bath Iron Works to celebrate voting on new contract. Voting is scheduled to wrap up Sunday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Gideon, who earned the union’s endorsement in her race against incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, said BIW management approached her and asked her to support the shipyard during the strike but she turned them down because she believes union members “deserve a fair contract this time.”

Gideon cited the strike’s two sticking points — subcontracting and seniority privileges — as two reason why she decided to side with the union during the strike.

“The people who have earned their seniority [should] get the benefits of that seniority,” she said. “… The jobs at Bath Iron Works [should] go to people who live in Maine, not to people who live out of state.”

Jackson thanked the union for insisting on a better contract from BIW because “it gives me hope that there are people that can actually fight for what they believe in and win, and we need more of that than anything in this country.”

“When we stand up together, we can achieve unbelievable things,” added Jackson.

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